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Justice Kennedy in the Middle of the Cake Case

By William Vogeler, Esq. on September 29, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Everybody has opinion about how U.S. Supreme Court Justices will vote, but experts say one opinion really matters in the wedding cake case.

In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a baker refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker, said it was against his religion.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case this term, but court-watchers will be listening for cues from Justice Anthony Kennedy. Experts say he will likely cast the deciding vote.

Religious v. Gay Rights

The case will be a classic showdown between religious and gay rights. It may be the most important case involving gay rights since the High Court legalized same-sex marriages.

"This is a case where we are likely to have a court of one: Justice Kennedy," former U.S. solicitor general Greg Garre told Reuters. Garre served as the Justice Department's top lawyer before the Supreme Court under President George W. Bush.

It's not news that Kennedy, the longest-serving justice on the court, has a reputation as a swing-voter. He's a conservative, but has swung with the liberal end of the court on issues such as gay rights and abortion.

In Masterpiece Cakeshop, Kennedy will have the chance to solidify his legacy as he nears the end of his service. He is the second-oldest judge on the court, and his former clerks have speculated he will soon retire.

Trump Weighs In

Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall recently offered the federal government's opinion in the case. "Forcing Phillips to create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights," Wall said in an amicus brief.

Louise Melling of the American Civil Liberties Union is representing David Mullins and Charlie Craig in the case. She said she was stunned by the justice department's amicus filing.

"What the Trump Administration is advocating for is nothing short of a constitutional right to discriminate," she said.

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